‘The Current’ Caps a Productive Year for Ida Jo
The year 2014 has been a remarkable one for Ida Jo Pujanen. Things got off to a heady start when she took home the Wisconsin Area Music Industry (WAMI) award for Female Vocalist. Not long after, she won three Madison Area Music Association (MAMA) awards for Folk/Americana Performer of the Year, Folk/Americana Album of the Year (for her fourth album For Better for Worse), and Strings Instrumentalist of the Year. Earlier this summer her side project Bello released its second recording (read the review here). Ida Jo has become increasingly involved with yoga and meditation and this year also saw the release of Yoga: A Deeper Journey In, an instructional CD by Lanie McManus featuring her music. Not missing a beat, she also released The Current (2014, self release), her fifth album. Already there are hints that there are new songs in anticipation of a sixth album coming soon.
Much of the lyrical content on The Current is informed by Ida Jo’s search for meaning, inner calmness and a deeper understanding of the human condition. Two songs are culled directly from her ongoing quest. “Speak in Silence” is noted as “from Lanie,” perhaps referring to a teaching or some advice she gained from the instructor. A live recording that’s included in the album, along with two bonus tracks, “Speak in Silence” is an uncomplicated piano and vocal duet. What makes it so compelling, like most all of Ida Jo’s music, is the starkly plaintive emotion she brings to the vocals. Her voice has gained resonance over time and that correlates to her obvious sense of self-assuredness and confidence—a factor you can hear in the progression from her first recording to her fifth.
Despite this, Ida Jo is also not afraid to release her demons. “What Good is Happiness” questions the validity of just about everything. “What good is happiness when it can’t buy you money / What good is freedom when you’re stuck in yourself / What good is a high when it comes with a low / What good is loving someone when they’re just gonna go,” might sound cynical but it’s really an examination, and though she doesn’t offer any solution, the premise is clear. Until you know what makes life good, it can’t be fully experienced.
In “Pain” she addresses similar examinations, this time declaring “I’ll let it run wild / I’ll let it roam / I’ll let it run wild / I won’t let it call me home.” The arrangement here is beautiful. Lightly plucked guitar harmonics, a relaxed brush stroke on the drums, melancholy violin and surface noise that gives the whole track the feel of an antique piece of vinyl. It’s a brilliant conceptualization of discovery.
“Pushing Forward” is inspired by the teachings of Rolf Gates, acclaimed yoga practitioner, teacher and author. A slower ballad, it’s an inspiring track, recognizing the need to go through loss and uncertainty to find hope. A close listen reveals understated background vocals.
When something’s not broken, don’t try to fix it. Ida Jo follows the same blueprint on The Current as she has on her previous releases, collaborating once again with Scott Lamps, who plays piano, guitar, bass and mandolin. Drums were played by Dane Crozier, and though they are subtle it’s probably the biggest instrumental shift in all her recordings. Lamps also engineered and produced once again and the mix is lush, the bass response particularly effective.
Though the formula is tried and true and each successive release shows progress, the songwriting remains much like that of Bello; short songs that are to the point with no departures (bridges). She doesn’t need to stretch the songs out, but there is a noticeable lack of contrast in the arrangements. Gregg Allman once said that, “A good bridge is like matching a shirt to the pants; you want it to contrast but be you don’t want it to clash.” I’ve always liked that analogy and for Ida Jo to step into the next level, this will be a challenge, but one that she is fully capable of developing.
The Current is an immensely pleasurable listen, soulful and calming. Ida Jo’s growing legion of fans are surely pleased with the quality and consistency of her output and there seems to be no end in sight.